As a Delaware native and someone who once volunteered his time at the Delaware Psychiatric Center, I have an ongoing interest in mental health issues in Delaware. I just got back from visiting there over the weekend.
The Delaware Psychiatric Center is the facility in Delaware that takes care of the worst of the worst of the mentally ill who are also often indigent and have few other resources available. A secured and fenced-in building on the campus also houses the “not guilty by reason of insanity” criminals. Like most state-run mental hospitals, it has had its shares of ups and downs over the years. In July of this year, the local newspaper (The News-Journalop-ed piece that praises the progress of the hospital over the past few years. Naturally it was written by a biased source, Delaware’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Vince Meconi.
After reading that piece (sorry for the Google cached version, it seems the original has been removed from the newspaper’s website), you’d think all was just plain rosy plum over at the hospital. And of course, you’d be wrong.
A month later, lawmakers in Delaware were conducting hearings on alleged abuse at the hospital. At the time, many stories of alleged abuse were heard by the lawmakers and advocates petitioned moving forward with investigations:
Jill Shute, who serves as vice president of the board of directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware, urged the committee “to not stop this investigation at the walls of DPC, but to move out into the community to assure that adequate staffing and quality care are provided there as well.”
A month later, the newspaper reported that a task force will begin a prove into the state hospital. You’d think the man responsible for caring for the people in the hospital would be leading the charge of such investigations, or at least welcoming them with open arms and nothing to hide.
And of course, you’d be wrong again.
Instead, Delaware’s DHSS Secretary Meconi again offers excuses:
Meconi cited two important factors the public needs to know: The hospital’s patients are very sick, and working there is a difficult job.
Gee, thanks for the insight there, Mr. Secretary. I didn’t realize the severely mentally ill might actually be, well, sick and that it takes a special team of caring and compassionate people to care of these individuals. My eyes have been opened wide!
Luckily, legislatures weren’t impressed either:
On Friday [9/14/2007], the Republican leadership of the Senate called for Meconi to resign or be fired, stating they had “lost confidence in Secretary Meconi’s ability to handle the problems” at DPC, which they described as a confusing process used to investigate patient abuse, confused testimony over the shredding of 32 boxes of investigative files, and “the failure of DPC management to take the issue of staff intimidation seriously and giving the impression of actually stifling employee openness.”
I don’t think the good residents of Delaware would miss Meconi if he is ousted. Delaware residents deserve someone who is an proactive advocate for change, not a defender of the broken status quo that leads to abuse allegations and hearings.
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Oddly, and apparently unrelated to this whole incident, one of the gleaming stars and leading proponents of patients’ rights in Delaware, Rita Marocco, has left NAMI-DE. NAMI-DE refuses to comment and is quite unintentionally entertaining in their stonewalling comments about the departure:
Board member Julius Meisel said Meconi wasn’t behind and changes to Marocco’s employment status. “That’s bunk,” he said. “This is an internal matter. I’m not going to comment further.”
I don’t know, NAMI-DE. When one of the stars of your organization and a well-known patient advocate for Delaware’s mentally ill just suddenly departs (likely over a contract issue), don’t you think the constituents you serve (you know, the mentally ill in Delaware) deserve some sort of better comment than “This is an internal matter.” No, it’s not. If it were simply an internal matter, The News-Journal wouldn’t be asking for you comment.
Hire a decent PR person, because you desperately need some help in that area.